Zhang Nao – Camphor

Nature: acrid, hot, toxic

Enters: Heart, Spleen

Topical Actions: Expels wind and dampness; kills parasites; promotes blood circulation, alleviates pain.

Topical Indications:
• Scabies, ringworm, itching sores
• Blood stasis: injuries, pain and swelling.
• Used topically as a powder or paste.
• Warming, irritative, and antiseptic effect on the skin. Mildly locally anaesthetic.
Hsu: Irritant effect – promotes blood circulation, increases mucosa secretion.

Internal Actions: Opens the orifices of the heart; expels turbidity.

Internal Indications:
• Delirium, sudden unconsciousness due to hot disorders.
• When taken orally, it irritates the gastric mucosa. In small doses, this causes a comfortably warm feeling. In large doses it causes nausea and vomiting.
Zhang nao stimulates the central nervous system, particularly the higher centers. Normal doses have no effect on respiration, but large doses can stimulate respiration.
• Oral doses of 0.5-1g can cause dizziness, headache, a feeling of warmth and restlessness. Over 2g leads to transient tranquilization followed by stimulation of the cerebral cortex with tonic-clonic spasms. Respiratory arrest can occur. 7-15g is fatal.
Yoga: Karpura: pungent, bitter/slightly heating/pungent; Sattvic.
• K, V-; P+(in excess)
• Expectorant, decongestant, stimulant, antispasmodic, bronchodilator, nervine, analgesic, antiseptic.
• Bronchitis, asthma, pertussis, pulmonary congestion, hysteria, epilepsy, delirium, insomnia, dysmenorrhea, gout, rheumatism, nasal congestion, sinus headache, eye problems, tooth decay.
• This herb is poisonous in excess: aggravates Pitta and Vata
• Increases prana, opens the senses, clears the mind.
• Applied to the eyes (in small amounts): initially burning, but promotes tears and cools and clears the eyes.
• Nasally: for congestion, headache, and to awaken perception.
• Burn as incense during devotional worship to purify the atmosphere and promote meditation.
• Use ONLY genuine, raw camphor internally.
Hsu: Stimulates the CNS; antifungal.

SD: Camphor oil is obtained from a tree (Cinnamomum camphora), and like cardamom, the essential oil of the tree contains a large number of terpenoids (mostly, the same ones as in cardamon, but in different proportions). Camphor was collected at least as early as the 9th Century. In 1676, the trees were brought to Europe for cultivation. In the following century, it was also introduced to several other countries, including the U.S. Prior to World War II, the world use of camphor was about 5,000 tons per year; 80% of this came from Taiwan (the Taiwan camphor tree yields 44% camphor from its leaves, a particularly high level). During the U.S. Civil War, the demand for camphor (used primarily as a medicinal) was so high that the U.S. contracted for the entire Taiwan supply. It was even proposed that an effort be made to purchase Taiwan (then called Formosa) in order to monopolize the camphor trade. It is perhaps for this reason that Japan acquired Formosa in 1895.
Camphor oil was a popular medicinal in the U.S. until about twenty years ago when several instances occurred in which children were fed camphor oil by parents who failed to distinguish it from castor oil. The pure camphor oil is toxic in the doses for which castor oil is used. Also, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration worried that topically applied camphor oil would penetrate the skin in sufficient amounts that it could cause trouble for persons with cardiac disorders who were taking various medications. As a result, it is no longer possible to purchase camphor oil for household use in the U.S.
Like borneol, camphor has been used as an antiseptic, antispasmodic, carminative, cardiac stimulant, respiratory aid, and anthelmintic. It is often used in treating congestive problems such as bronchitis and emphysema. Camphor is also used in preparation of foods, being an ingredient of vanilla and peppermint flavors, and incorporated into formulations of soft drinks, baked goods, and condiments. In modern Chinese medicine, camphor is most often reserved for external application, while borneol is used both internally and externally. Synthetic camphor, often made from by chemically modifying pine tree resins (turpentine), is now widely used as a substitute for the natural product.
Camphor and the chemically related compound camphene are found in: cardamom, saussurea, ginger, magnolia, curcuma, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cyperus.

Internal Dose: 0.1-0.2g in pills or dissolved in wine

2 comments on “Zhang Nao – Camphor

  1. Luke says:

    Interesting that it has a medicinal use. Yesterday someone gave me swedish bitters, I didn’t like it because of the camphor but I guess there’s probably a reason its added to the mix.
    I’ve visited the camphor museum in Taiwan, quite interesting.
    An interesting thing about camphor is it sublimes. Aside from that I read here https://toxnet.nlm.nih.gov/cgi-bin/sis/search/a?dbs+hsdb:@term+@DOCNO+37
    camphor ingestion may lead to abortion and/or a death of the fetus because camphor crosses the placenta and fetuses lack the enzymes needed to hydroxylate and conjugate with glucuronic acid
    So its not for pregnant women

    • Peter Borten says:

      Yes, camphor has a long history of medicinal use, and yes, it is contraindicated for pregnant women! Also, camphor from natural sources is considered to be safer than the synthetic form.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *